Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Everything Is Negotiable

Sabeer Bhatia founded Hotmail on $300.000 and four months later sold his email service for $400 million. Did Sabeer get lucky or was he just good?

The Hotmail founder hails from India where everyone develops bargaining chops from childhood. Whether it’s wages, cab fare, or onions from the grocer, every transaction is negotiated.

So when a small army from Microsoft flew down to Hotmail headquarters to talk business, Sabeer was ready. For two months Bill Gates’ henchmen offered figures high enough to set him up for life, but Sabeer rejected all of them.

He wanted nothing less than $700 million.

Microsoft’s cronies shouted, cursed, threw chairs, everything short of actually getting physical with the Indian entrepreneur. But Sabeer stood his ground, he had seen his relatives haggling over vegetables at the market.

He knew the tricks of the trade.

After four months of negotiating, Microsoft finally coughed up $400 million, over twice their initial offer. The rest is history.

Despite coming from a country built on trading, negotiating in the Netherlands is seen by many as awkward and even rude.

What makes the Dutch anti-negotiation stance even weirder, is that you can save hundreds of dollars a year just by negotiating with your mobile phone provider.

You can save even more money by bargaining about your credit card fees, your cable subscription, your car insurance, perhaps even your happy meal. And let’s not forget you can earn money by striking up a good deal with your clients or boss.

If being a better negotiator sounds interesting, here are some tips.

Firstly, never ask a yes or no question.

If given a choice, whoever you’re dealing with is always going to answer no. So instead of asking, “Can you help me?” say, “I’m not satisfied with the price. What can you do for me?”

Secondly, show some empathy before you crack into your issue.

If negotiating over the phone, I start with something like this, “Hi, Sarah. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.” Being polite goes a long way.

Lastly, don’t negotiate for nickels and dimes.

As you get better at negotiating, it’s seductive to haggle over every transaction. Not only is that time consuming, it can also be plain insulting.

If you’re unsure when to negotiate, here’s my rule of thumb:

Buying a new car? Yes. Buying a hot dog? No.

Happy negotiating.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach